Four years ago Sarah-Jane Rawlings and I started Fun Palaces. From the simple assertion that everyone is creative and each community knows best how to create for itself, it has grown into a movement where thousands of people annually create local events, with hundreds of thousands joining in to share skills, passions and enthusiasm in arts, science, craft, tech, digital and, more recently, sport.
On 7th and 8th October this year, across the UK and beyond there will be over three hundred Fun Palaces - our biggest weekend yet - taking place in shop fronts, libraries, swimming pools, leisure centres, a ferry, schools, universities and dozens of other locations.
Each Fun Palace is led by a Maker team, they may be staff from an organisation, a 'Friends of' group, regular volunteers or neighbours getting together for the first time. What they all have in common is that they are making something led by and for local people, which means every Fun Palace is unique, with a real spirit of that place.
What is also special about Fun Palaces is the range of Makers. In 2016 34% of Maker teams included people under 18, 30% included people over 65 - and 14% included people both over 65 and under 18. This age range is key, Fun Palaces are absolutely not just for kids. We want everyone to have the opportunity to learn new skills from their neighbours, everyone to have the chance to contribute, everyone, of any age, to know that they are welcome to create.
All too often we hear that youth must take on the burden of looking after our increasingly fractured society, that it's youth we must look to for hope. At 54, I see this view as not only an abdication of responsibility from those of us who are middle-aged and older, but an unfair burden on our young people. If I'm very lucky (I've had cancer twice, so luck may not be on my side), I might live another thirty years. I not only expect to contribute for those years, I passionately want to. I want to keep working with and learning from people younger and older than myself. I certainly don't think that now is the time I should take a back seat and leave creating an equal and hopeful society up to a 20-something who is also dealing with student debt, impossible costs for housing, and increasingly unstable global economies and politics.
Society's emphasis on youth is a dangerously double-edged sword; while it shines a light on the hope of young people, it also expects far too much from those who are just beginning in the world. Of course, young people are our future, of course we need to support them to lead, to create change, but concentrating on one end of the age spectrum denies the experience, the wisdom and the potential contribution of those who are middle-aged and older - when we truly value life experience this growing group will have so much more to give.
So much of our cultural emphasis - in arts or sciences - is on children. But there is no point in taking a group of school children on a museum or art gallery visit unless we also support their parents to understand that culture and heritage is for them too. There is no point in taking a bunch of eight year olds to the local science centre unless we also support their parents, many of whom decided years ago that sciences were not for them, to know that they too can find beauty in the intricacies of our universe. Mozart's father and Grieg's mother were music teachers, Marie and Pierre Curie's daughter Irene became a scientist, Rosalind Franklin's father taught practical sciences at a Working Men's College, Nina Simone starting playing piano at the age of three, performing with her family's church. If we want our children to be creative - and every facet of society needs as much creativity as the arts and sciences - we need to support their parents and families in their own creativity, their own learning and growing. We need to encourage everyone to create, not just consume.
You'll see plenty of children and young people at Fun Palaces this coming weekend - after all, we live in a society that tells us fun is only for kids - but hopefully you'll also see the grownups getting stuck in, learning, sharing, playing too. In Fun Palaces we believe that learning and play, creativity and community is for everyone, of every age, all the time. We can all create and we can all contribute. Check our map for your local Fun Palace and come and play - if there isn't one where you are, we welcome you to make one next year.